I had a whole thing brewing here, but Rebecca Traister got there first:
Here is what is wrong, what has always been wrong, with equating feminist success with “having it all”: It’s a misrepresentation of a revolutionary social movement. The notion that female achievement should be measured by women’s ability to “have it all” recasts a righteous struggle for greater political, economic, social, sexual and political parity as a piggy and acquisitive project.
What does “having it all” even mean? Affordable childcare or a nanny who speaks Mandarin? Decent school lunches or organic string cheese? A windowed office or a higher minimum wage? Public transportation that reliably gets you to work or a driver who will whisk you from kindergarten dropoff in time for the board meeting? Does it mean never feeling stress or guilt? Does it mean feeling satisfied all the time?
It is a trap, a setup for inevitable feminist short-fall. Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the “have it all” formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism – as opposed to persistent gender inequity – that’s to blame.
(Anne-Marie Slaughter approves, for what it’s worth.)
So anyway. At this point, the only thing I have to add is: While all this has been going on, the NYT has published a couple of pieces on achievement without (explicit) regard to gender: Alina Tugend’s “Redefining success and celebrating the ordinary” and Tim Kreider’s “The busy trap”. You can read them if you want, but I think the angles are pretty clear from the titles.
And it just seems funny, doesn’t it? That, although people in general need to chill out, somehow women, who are people, ought to be really focused on quantifying precisely what they can and cannot achieve and how they ought to time things to maximize that achievement? I don’t wish to pin this inconsistency on Tugend or Kreider, who have not endorsed it; it’s just funny and maybe instructive to have these two issues in the zeitgeist simultaneously.
I also don’t mean to suggest that conversations like those Anne-Marie Slaughter has sparked shouldn’t happen. Other (better-paid) commentators have already taken this angle and it’s wrong — and frustratingly wrong, because the sort of “suck it up and deal” language employed in the linked article is exactly one of the things Slaughter was, very reasonably, protesting in her own essay. The issue isn’t that we shouldn’t talk about the obstacles to women’s achievement, or try to sort out what’s reasonable and unreasonable for women or men to expect from life, or even whether some degree of gender difference in various outcomes is ineradicable. The issue is how we talk about what women want. Because it’s insulting and useless to talk as though half the world wants the same things and they are, as Traister puts it, piggy, and acquisitive, and impossible.
(Or, you know, more so than average. Women are, after all, only human.)
(The title of the post refers to a little photo collection linked by Traister, which is priceless in a sad sort of way.)
(H/T TNC, again.)